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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Review: Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani

Title: Children of the Jacaranda Tree
Author: Sahar Delijani
Format: ARC
Publisher: Atria
Publish Date: June 18, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You like family stories.
  • You're a fiction fan.
  • You like armchair traveling.
  • You don't mind tough subjects.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Neda is born in Tehran’s Evin Prison, where her mother is allowed to nurse her for a few months before the arms of a guard appear at the cell door one day and, simply, take her away. In another part of the city, three-year-old Omid witnesses the arrests of his political activist parents from his perch at their kitchen table, yogurt dripping from his fingertips. More than twenty years after the violent, bloody purge that took place inside Tehran’s prisons, Sheida learns that her father was one of those executed, that the silent void firmly planted between her and her mother all these years was not just the sad loss that comes with death, but the anguish and the horror of murder.

These are the Children of the Jacaranda Tree. Set in post-revolutionary Iran from 1983 to 2011, this stunning debut novel follows a group of mothers, fathers, children, and lovers, some related by blood, others brought together by the tide of history that washes over their lives. Finally, years later, it is the next generation that is left with the burden of the past and their country’s tenuous future as a new wave of protest and political strife begins."


My Two Cents:

"Children of the Jacaranda" is set against the back-drop of post-revolutionary Iran from when the revolution was occurring until fairly recent times. It is the story of family and the ties that bind and also of family secrets that were hidden in order to try to protect some family members from the truth. This book started off quickly for me with a lot of action and while some parts in the middle were definitely a little slower as the family stories emerged, I still really enjoyed this book.

I really like armchair traveling, guys. Even though Iran is still fairly dangerous for an American to visit and therefore, I probably would not visit any time soon, I really loved getting a good feeling for what the country must have been like in the past and after the revolution. Delijani does a fantastic job of evoking place in this book.

There are many different characters in this book and not too much individual detail and therefore, I did not really grasp on to a single one. The book is more about various experiences and not so much about a single character.

This book deals with difficult subjects regarding war and families divided by war and is definitely a little sobering but this is a good portrait of a family in times of crisis.


 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Ashford Affair Blog Tour: An Interview with Lauren Willig

Author Lauren Willig is currently on virtual tour for her latest release, The Ashford Affair. I am very pleased to welcome Lauren here to A Bookish Affair for an interview.


1.      What was your inspiration for "The Ashford Affair?"

I blame it all on my friend Christina, who gave me a copy of Frances Osborne’s The Bolter back in the fall of 2010.  For those who haven’t encountered it yet, The Bolter follows the exploits of Idina Sackville Gordon Wallace, etc., etc., who racketed about between London and Kenya in the 1920s, acquiring and discarding husbands along the way. 
 
All dramatic and fascinating stuff, but what really caught my attention was the author’s comment, in the preface, that she hadn’t known that Idina was her great-grandmother until she was in her teens.  The family had kept the relationship under wraps.
 
At the time, my own grandmother was very ill, and it struck me, forcibly, how much we assume and how little we know of our own family members and their pasts.  What if a modern woman, wrapped up in her own career worries, were to discover that nothing about her family was as it seemed?  What would that do to her, and her emotional journey?  And what about those women in the past, those women who had faced the decline of the aristocracy, two World Wars, who had seen the world as they knew it turn on its head around them? 
 
An idea began to take root in my head, involving two cousins, one rich, one poor, tied by old bonds of affection, buffeted by the demands of a changing world.
 
I wasn’t meant to be writing about rackety socialites or poor cousins or 1920s Kenya; I was meant to be writing about Napoleonic spies.  But once the idea hit, it wouldn’t go away.  I put the tenth book in my Pink Carnation series on hold, read up on Edwardian England, World War I, and 1920s Kenya, and launched into the story that became The Ashford Affair.


2.      You've written many books at this point in time. Does writing get easier or harder over time? Does it depend on the book you are writing at the time?

I remember, way back when, thinking, “Once I have two books out, then I’ll be a real writer and really know what I’m doing!” 

Poor, naïve younger me.  Right now, I’m on my thirteenth book and I still have no idea what I’m doing.  Every book presents its own, unique challenges.  Sometimes, it’s trouble really getting to the heart of what makes a character tick; other times, it’s wrestling with plot or pacing. 
Writing The Ashford Affair, I struggled with the latter.  I knew the characters I was dealing with and the story I wanted to tell about them, a story spanning ninety-odd years and three continents, but I wasn’t quite sure how to frame it.  The original drafts of the first few chapters of Ashford were written in the first person, in the voice of my historical heroine, as an older woman, looking back.  I loved the story she was telling, but the form wasn’t right.  I tried several different avenues into the story before finally hitting that “Eureka!” point, where it all fell into place.

3.      What was your research process like for "The Ashford Affair?"

I start out every novel with what I think of as my immersion phase.  Before I launch into the writing, I stockpile research books and go on reading sprees, plowing through anything I think might be vaguely useful or related to the plot or time period of the novel.
 
With The Ashford Affair, which spans from 1906 to 1999, with stops in the 1910s and 1920s along the way, I spent several months reading up on Edwardian society, World War, the roaring twenties, Bright Young Things, and expat life in Kenya.  Fortunately for me, there’s a wealth of material out there, from biographies and memoirs to letter collections and scrapbooks.  One source led to another, and before I knew it, I was surrounded with a small fort of books, including fiction from the period, which is the best way to get a sense of the rhythm and tone of language at the time.

For anyone who is curious about some of my sources, you can find a bibliography up on my website: http://www.laurenwillig.com/diversions/hf/bibliography_ashford.php

4.      "The Ashford Affair" is your first standalone book in awhile. How did your process for writing this book differ from the Pink Carnation books?

Some parts of my process stayed constant: caffeine and deadline panic.  I find caffeine and deadline panic do more to propel me through a blank page than anything else.  (Especially when the caffeine contains various sugary syrups and is topped with a liberal dollop of whipped cream.) 
In other ways, it was very different.  With the Pink Carnation books, my readers have grown accustomed to a certain type of plot and pacing; when I sit down to write, I know I’m working within those constraints.  With The Ashford Affair, it was the opposite: suddenly, the sky was the limit and it was all wide open spaces.  As I mentioned above, writing Ashford involved a lot of trial and error as I played around with various ways of telling the story.  Having that kind of narrative freedom was both exhilarating and terrifying.

5.      If you could choose three fictional characters to bring with you to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?
That’s always a tough one!  Diana Gabaldon’s Claire Fraser would be useful to have around, for her knowledge of plants, herbs, and healing remedies (and, of course, her wry sense of humor).  I’d take Austen’s Emma with me, knowing that she would be up for a good gossip to wile away those long hours on the deserted beach.  I doubt there would be a dull moment with Emma around.  Last but not least, Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody, who I’m sure would give me a crash course in the latest methodologies in archaeology (and by latest, I mean pre-World War I) and would keep all marauders at bay with her handy dandy parasol.
I would be tempted to include Lord Peter Wimsey, whose ability to talk nonsense is one of his most endearing characteristics, but I’ve decided to keep this a Girls’ Shipwreck Out.  Besides, it would be cruel to separate him from Harriet Vane when it took them such a long time to finally get together.

Thanks for stopping by, Lauren!!!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Literary Locale: The HNS Conference Edition

Literary Locale is a meme here at A Bookish Affair on Fridays where I talk about where I've been reading lately or any other bookish locations that I feel like talking about. Feel free to grab the logo and play along!

So as you all may remember, I attended the Historical Novel Society Conference in gorgeous St. Petersburg, Florida last weekend. It was a really, really amazing event and I'm so happy that I went. I'm still bathing in the afterglow of the conference but I figured that it was time to tell you all about my experience at the conference. Sharing is caring, you guys!
I spent the entire weekend like this (or at least trying to be like this; sometimes I just sunk into total fangirl-dom and you know, I'm totally okay with that):
I got down to St. Pete's a day early as I wanted to prolong this vacation a little bit. It's been awhile since I've really gotten to go on vacation so I figured I should enjoy St. Pete's a little bit. And I did! I visited the Dali museum, which I will talk more about in the next edition of Literary Locale next week. I also walked a 4 mile roundtrip to CVS, which I will not tell you about because it made me very sad to be walking so far to someplace so un-glam in the hot, sticky humidity.
The conference was held in the gorgeous Hotel Vinoy, right on the gorgeous Tampa Bay. It was an awesome hotel and it was pink! I loved that the hotel was on the bay because it meant getting to see a lot of pelicans, which I find ridiculously adorable!

Pensive pelican.
Thursday night, I was sitting in the lobby (this hotel had a fabulous lobby with a lot of comfy places to sit. Sharman Burson Ramsey came up to me and asked me if I was here for HNS. I said yes and we started talking. She is incredibly nice and this little interlude just illustrates how amazing all of the attendees of the conference were. I know that HNS is supposed to be for everyone and not just authors but the majority of people in attendance were authors and I was a little worried about feeling like the odd man out. This was totally not my experience at all though! Everyone I met (and I met a ton of people) was absolutely amazing and just so awesome.

 The real fun started on Friday night. First I went to the Tweet and Greet for those of us that planned to tweet during the conference (if you follow me on Twitter, oh you know how much I tweeted). I got to meet awesome people like Julie Rose, Heather Domin, Kate Michael, and Amanda Orr for the first time.  I won a pack of awesome HNS stationary just for tweeting on Twitter (I wish I won more stuff that way). Then it was time for dinner. I sat with several people from my local HNS Chesapeake Bay chapter including the lovely Stephanie Dray, Sophie Perinot, and Kate Quinn.  Anne Perry spoke at the dinner. I really liked her speech. She sort of talked about the art of storytelling and historical fiction's role in that realm. She had a very strong and commanding presence.
Oh and the highlight of my evening personally was that The Margaret George (whose name must always be spoken in bold and italics due to her queenly status within the literary community) was at our table. She was sitting about two people away from me and I could not speak to her. This is what I did during dinner to her (I'm almost sure of it; I'm a creeper):
Saturday was when all of the seminars started. There were a lot of really interesting ones and many of them seemed to be happening at the same time as each other and I was sad to miss out on some of them. 
Here is what I ended up attending:
  • Depicting Religion in Historical Fiction
  • Is ‘Genre’ a Dirty Word? Commercial v. Literary Historical Fiction
  • The Feisty Heroine Sold into Marriage Who Hates Bear Baiting: Clichés in HF and How to Avoid Them
  • Virtual Salon: The Historical Fiction Blog
  • HF Set in the Ancient World: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
 We broke in the middle of the sessions to have lunch. C.W. Gortner was the speaker at lunch and definitely gave my favorite speech of the weekend. I have been a big fan of his books for awhile and even merely from that perspective, I was excited to see him speak. He gave a really inspiring speech about why it's so important to not give up your writing even the road to getting your writing published can be long and more than a little arduous.
After the sessions, it was time for the book signing. Many of the authors that were in attendance also signed books. There was a little book shop at the conference and I must tell you that I went absolutely wild with getting books to be signed. I could not help myself! I will show you all what I got soon. It's going to be like Christmas when I open that box!
Then it was time for dinner. The keynote speaker was Steve Berry, who writes a lot of thrillers that have a tiny bit of history thrown in the mix. His speech ending up being sort of a strange one for the audience. He spoke about a very small legend about Elizabeth I dying in childhood and being replaced by a man. Okay, and to point out what may perhaps be an obvious fact, he said this in a room full of people who take research pretty seriously. I'm not sure why he was chosen but I think that there were many other people already at the conference that could have been chosen to speak. I'm trying to be very diplomatic about this part of the conference but it is not quite working. I just have a lot of feelings about this speech so I will quit while I'm ahead!
After dinner, there was a costume contest that was so much fun. People got really creative with their costumes. Gillian Bagwell did an amazing job hosting the contest. She was in character the whole time! Teralyn Pilgrim (who I loved meeting) was a Vestal Virgin with a visibly pregnant belly. It was very, very funny! History has never seen such a thing!
Me with the lovely Teralyn!
After the costume pageant and Steve Berry's speech, it was time for the Sex Scene readings hosted by The Diana Gabaldon (whose name must also be in bold, italic font). This session was a blast. Let me just say that the readers are much braver than I would be! They all did a great job!

On Sunday, I woke up a little tired but still raring to go to more sessions. Here's what I attended on Sunday:
  • Historical Fiction: The American Experience 
  • Foreign Language, Slang and Dialect in Historical Fiction
Then I met up with the lovely Audra (Unabridged Chick) and we had to go upstairs to the lobby to rehash the Steve Berry speech as we were both so fired up about it! We had ALL OF THE FEELINGS and had to discuss them post haste! We ended up having an impromptu blogger lunch with Sarah (Reading the Past) and Heather (The Maiden's Court), which was super nice.
I had an opportunity to hang out with a lot of people after the conference technically ended. Sunday night, I dragged Sarah, Marie Parsons, Jessica Brockmole, and Alison Atlee to this sushi place called Rollbotto. Guys, this place was life changing. It's like Chipotle for sushi. All of these ladies were good sports and indulged me by going to Rollbotto. Between Thursday and Sunday night, I went to that place three times. If you ever find yourself in St. Pete's, I certainly have a restaurant suggestion for you!!!
I absolutely loved this conference! This was the first book conference that I had ever really been too. I can be a little shy when I first meet you and I was a little bit worried about meeting authors and whether or not they would want to talk to me because I'm not a writer, just a lowly book blogger. It wasn't at all like that. Everyone was so darn nice and social and sweet and amazing! It was so cool to be surrounded by so many people who have the same interests and passions that I do! I had nothing to fear and I actually had a lot of people that complimented my little blog here (you know how to make a girl feel good). I came back from Florida feeling really happy that I went and very sad that the HNS conference is only held here in the States every other year! I know that I will be back for 2015 though!  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review: The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley

Title: The Lavender Garden
Author: Lucinda Riley
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: June 11, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You like stories about family.
  • You like a dash of mystery with your reading.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "La Côte d’Azur, 1998: In the sun-dappled south of France, Emilie de la Martinières, the last of her gilded line, inherits her childhood home, a magnificent château and vineyard. With the property comes a mountain of debt—and almost as many questions . . .

Paris, 1944: A bright, young British office clerk, Constance Carruthers, is sent undercover to Paris to be part of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive during the climax of the Nazi occupation. Separated from her contacts in the Resistance, she soon stumbles into the heart of a prominent family who regularly entertain elite members of the German military even as they plot to liberate France. But in a city rife with collaborators and rebels, Constance’s most difficult decision may be determining whom to trust with her heart.

As Emilie discovers what really happened to her family during the war and finds a connection to Constance much closer than she suspects, the château itself may provide the clues that unlock the mysteries of her past, present, and future. Here is a dazzling novel of intrigue and passion from one of the world’s most beloved storytellers.

Note to readers:  In the UK, this book is published under the title The Light Behind the Window."


My Two Cents:

"The Lavender Garden" is the third book that I have read by Lucinda Riley and I can say definitively that this one is my favorite! Like her other books, this book takes place in two different times. One time is 1998 France and the other is France during WWII. The book starts out a little quietly and bit slow but picks up into a really fascinating story with great characters and good historical detail.

I really liked both times. This does not always happen for me. Typically with books like this, I am partial to one time or the other (even more typically, it is usually the more historical time). In this book, both time periods were definitely engaging. I really liked seeing how the times came together in order to form the full story. This book had a really good flow, which kept me turning the pages.

While I liked both time periods, I really enjoyed reading about Connie during the French Resistance. I am always really fascinated by some of the things that people did in France in order to fight the Germans covertly. There was a lot of really interesting historical detail in these sections. I think historical fiction lovers will definitely love how well Riley develops the story in the WWII sections.

Overall, Riley's books have gotten progressively better for me and I am waiting eagerly for her next release.


 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Review: In the Face of Jinn by Cheryl Howard Crew

Title: In the Face of Jinn
Author: Cheryl Howard Crew
Format: Audiobook
Publisher: St. Martins
Publish Date: January 24, 2006
Source: I received a copy from the PR; however, this did not affect my review.






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a fiction fan.
  • You like stories about sisters.
  • You like to armchair travel.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Christine and Elizabeth Shepherd are on a buying trip in India for their California silk business when Elizabeth mysteriously disappears. In search of her sister, Christine ventures alone into Afghanistan and Pakistan disguised in the traditional garb of Islam, and often living among the women of the region, enduring the crushing oppression of Sharia. Christine painfully gains a new understanding of her own country and family as she navigates the mysterious tribes of the Pashtuns, has a dangerous encounter with the Taliban, and learns to fear the "Jinn," the devils that dominate the superstitions of the people she must understand in order to survive."

My Two Cents:

"In the Face of Jinn" is the story of two sisters who go to India in order to buy silk for their business. This is a story about danger and the very special bond between sisters. It is an interesting premise for the book and I really liked the out of the ordinary setting of Asia.

The setting of the book was really interesting and definitely helped to keep me engaged in the book. You all know how much I love armchair traveling, right? I really liked how Crew captured the surroundings in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India. There were many scenes where I could definitely imagine myself there.

The premise was interesting to me but I did have some issues with suspending my disbelief. When one of the sisters, Elizabeth, disappears, her sister goes on a journey to try and find her. Her journey takes her through many places in India and Pakistan. This is the place where I had some issues. Pakistan and Afghanistan, in particular, are both pretty dangerous places and I didn't really understand why Christine did what she did. Why didn't she try to get the authorities involved? I realize the local authorities are a little lacking in that part of the world. Why wouldn't she call the embassy or something? It just seemed like sort of a dumb move to me. I can understand really want to find your sister. I wanted to understand why Christine thought she could do things better by herself. That would have felt more real to me.

I listened to the audiobook of this book. Cheryl Howard Crew is director Ron Howard's wife and the audiobook is narrated by Bryce Dallas Howard, their daughter and a famous actress in her own right. I really liked her narration. She has a great voice for the book and I would love to hear her read more audiobooks in the future. 


 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

Title: The Diviners
Author: Libba Bray
Format: Audiobook
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publish Date: September 18, 2012
Source: Library



Why You're Reading This Book:
  •  You're a YA fiction fan.
  • You like a little bit of the paranormal.
 What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Evie O'Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City--and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult--also known as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies."

When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer--if he doesn't catch her first."


My Two Cents:

I had heard really good things about this book but it isn't the sort of book that I usually read. When I saw that it was available as a downloadable audiobook from my library through Overdrive, I thought that I would give it a shot. I am most definitely glad that I stepped outside my box a little bit on this one. This book left me wanting more (at least The Diviners is only the first book in a planned series).

Okay, so I wasn't exactly looking forward to reading more paranormal and that's why I was hesitant about reading this book. I've been a little burnt out on the genre lately; however, I really liked the magic and the paranormal elements at play in this book. Bray does a really good job of sort of "normalizing" some of the paranormal-ness so that it fits in with the characters' world. Oh how I love magical realism!I was also a little hesitant because of the scariness aspect. Guys, I will admit to you that I am a complete wimp. Now back in my high school days, I went through Stephen King and other scary-ish books like water but at the ripe ol' age of 27, I have become a complete wimp. Some parts of The Diviners are a little creepy (the book does deal with a serial killer) but the creepiness was both warranted and not overwhelming!

This book also takes place in the Roaring 1920s. You all know that I love historical fiction and I've been craving reading more about the 1920s. I just think it was such an absolutely glamorous time. The Diviners is filled with all sorts of 1920s goodness. The main character, Evie, is a flapper. Another one of the characters, Theda, is a dancer at the Follies. Another one of the characters, Mabel, is the daughter of Communists. Bray brings some many of the topics du jour of the 20s to life through her characters. This book takes place in New York City, which is an exciting setting for me just about any time but Bray really brings 1920s NYC to life. All of the glitz and glamour is there!

There are a lot of characters in this book. One thing I worry about with a large cast of characters and listening to the book is that I won't be able to keep track of who is who or who is speaking. Bray's characters are all incredibly unique so it was very easy to keep track of who was who. Also, the reader of the audiobook is incredibly. She sings. She speaks in accents. She does it all. I think I would have enjoyed reading the book in print but the narrator in this case made the audiobook experience really great.

As I mentioned, there are a lot of characters in this book. At first, you are wondering how they are all connected as each of their stories are being told separately or at least in conjunction with Evie's story (Evie is very much at the center of the story). I really loved how Bray was able to bring all of the characters together. It was very cool!

Right now, Goodreads has the next book in this series coming out in 2014. This makes me a sad panda. I need that book now please!


  

Monday, June 24, 2013

Review: Muy Bueno by Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack, Veronica Gonzalez-Smith, Evangelina Soza

Title: Muy Bueno
Author: Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack, Veronica Gonzalez-Smith, Evangelina Soza
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Hippocrene books
Publish Date: October 1, 2012
Source: I received a copy from the PR; however, this did not affect my review:






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a non-fiction fan.
  • You're a foodie.
  • You love to cook.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Sintate a comer, esta muy bueno! {Sit down and eat, its very good!} This was how Jesusita Mendias-Soza always welcomed guests to her table. The same words served as inspiration for her daughter Evangelina and granddaughters Yvette and Veronica, who wanted to honor her memory and preserve their familys recipes and stories for future generations. They started the Muy Bueno Cookbook blog in 2010 with this idea in mind, and quickly attracted thousands of fans and followers who fell in love with Muy Buenos flavorful Mexican recipes, heartwarming family stories, and beautiful photography. Now they open their hearts and kitchens to an even wider audience in their first cookbook. Spanning three generations, Muy Bueno offers over 100 recipes: traditional old-world northern Mexican recipes from Jesusitas kitchen; comforting south of the border home-style dishes from Evangelina; and innovative Latin fusion recipes from Yvette and Veronica. Also includes a chile glossary with photos, step-by-step instructions for roasting chiles, making tamales, and red chile sauce."

My Two Cents:

Both my husband and I enjoy cooking and we both really like cooking and we love exploring new cuisines together. One of my personal favorite cuisines is Mexican. I've had a couple chances to travel to various places in Mexico and the food has been one of the stand out experiences for me. When I had a chance to take a look at this book, I was very excited.

"Muy Bueno" is filled with absolutely gorgeous pictures and lovely recipes. I also really like the family story behind this book. All of the recipes that I've gotten from various family members are incredibly important to me and I love how this family was able to put all of these recipes and the stories behind the food.

Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to make any of the recipes yet but I know once my garden is ready to be harvested, this cookbook is definitely going to come in handy. I really liked how there was a focus on using super fresh ingredients! There are so many that I want to try. I'm especially excited about the tamales and all of the different salsas.

All in all, this is a great addition to my massive cookbook collection!


 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Review: Cliff of the Ruin by Bonnie McKernan

Title: Cliff of the Ruin
Author: Bonnie McKernan
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Abbott Press
Publish Date: November 20, 2012
Source: I received a copy from the author; however, this did not affect my review.






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You enjoy a little bit of the paranormal.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "There are three good reasons why dashing Civil War hero and New York lawyer William Teague cannot tell artist Mae Kendrick he's in love with her. One, she told him he was dull. Two, she is the niece of an important client. Three, she just hired him to find the man she doesn't remember marrying.

As Will manages this peculiar case, the search for Mae's husband unveils a shocking discovery about her childhood, one that shifts the investigation to the place of her birth--Ireland.

But on the voyage overseas, circumstances become increasingly bizarre. Mae suffers ghost-like visions and further memory loss, and Will is seduced by a beautiful stranger who just might be trying to kill him. When Mae suddenly vanishes like her husband, Will is forced to enter a thin place, an ancient monastic ruin leading to Ireland's Celtic otherworld, in what becomes a race against time to find her.

But are Will's war-honed instincts any match for the alluring forces of Irish legend? Can he distinguish friend from foe? Can he protect Mae from the apparitions of her past? And how far beyond the breaking point can his secret love be tested?"


My Two Cents:

"Cliff of the Ruin" has so many of the elements that I really love in a book. There are interesting characters with interesting backgrounds. There's an interesting historical setting and time. There's even a little bit of magical realism thrown in (one of my very favorite elements). All of these things came together really well in this book and made for a very interesting read.

This book did start out a little bit slowly for me. It takes awhile for the story to really get going but once it does, it doesn't stop! I thought some of the detail in the beginning could have been slimmed down a little bit in order to get to the real meat of the story faster.

I really liked the characters in this book and thoroughly enjoyed reading about them. I especially liked when Will and Mae journey to Ireland together. I enjoyed reading about them on the ship and Mae's otherworldly encounters while they were on the ship. These are characters that you definitely want to know more about and what is making them tick throughout the book.

I haven't read a lot set in the late 1800s so I really liked reading about McKernan's description of the things and people that were important to the time. I always like going someplace new within my reading!

Overall, this is a pretty good book. Hang in there when you begin it and you will be rewarded with a story filled with interesting tales and great characters!


 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It's Time for #HNS2013!!!

As you're reading this, I'm probably either on my way to the Historical Novel Society conference in (hopefully sunny) St. Petersburg, Florida! I am so excited!






I have some reviews scheduled for while I'm away for your reading pleasure. If you want to keep up with what I'm doing in St. Petersburg, you can follow me on:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Review: Demon by Laura DeLuca

Title: Demon
Author: Laura DeLuca
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Pagan Writers Press
Publish Date: March 2013
Source: I received a copy from the author; however, this did not affect my review.






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a fiction fan.
  • You're a YA fan.
  • You enjoyed Phantom by Laura DeLuca
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "When Justyn and Rebecca set off to attend the New York School of Performing Arts, they think their dreams are about to come true. To their dismay, they aren’t in high school anymore, and the competition is steep. Rebecca must compete against accomplished singers for a role in the production of Demon Barber, including a stunning Gothic diva with her sights set on Justyn.

It doesn't help that things keep disappearing from their apartment or that Rebecca's father refuses to accept that Justyn is an essential part of her life. Yet, all this seems minimal in comparison to the serial rapist terrorizing the campus.

Consumed by fear and obsessed with revenge, Rebecca and Justyn start living the story of Sweeney Todd—both on and off the stage."


My Two Cents:

"Demon" is the thrilling sequel to "Phantom" and the second book in the planned Dark Musicals trilogy by Laura DeLuca. It's a modern day take on the musical, "Sweeney Todd." The book picks up a little bit after the first book ends. Rebecca and Justyn are now away at college together. They've taken their relationship to another level and are living together and auditioning for parts in the college drama departments presentation of "Sweeney Todd" under a professor who seems to hate them for no good reason, which makes doing the musical extra difficult.

While readers would probably be able to pick up "Demon" and get the story right off the bat, you really should go back and read "Phantom" as it's another good book in the same dark and thrilling vein as "Demon."

As with "Phantom," I really loved all of the twists and turns in this book. I thought the overall mystery in the book was a little less surprising than the central mystery in "Phantom" (I won't give you any spoilers) but it was still so much fun to watch all of the pieces come together and having my thoughts and ideas confirmed.

I really liked that DeLuca was able to weave in a very real issue and a very important message within this book. One of the main characters, Rebecca narrowly escapes a rape attempt and for very obvious reasons, has a lot of trouble coping with it and figuring out how to deal with the emotions coming out of that situation. I really thought that DeLuca did a good job of covering such a serious topic!

This book is billed as YA fiction but the content is fairly dark and may be best suited for older YA readers as with "Phantom."


 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

HF Virtual Book Tours Guest Post and Giveaway: Jennifer Cody Epstein

Today, I am very happy to welcome Jennifer Cody Epstein to A Bookish Affair for a guest post. There's also a giveaway for her wonderful new release, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment at the bottom of this post.


In Defense of Indefensible Language

Recently, I was engaged in an interesting online discussion about the merit—or lack thereof—of foul language. I am not, I should hasten to add, a big fan of swearing in general, though I’ll admit to letting more than I’d like slip under pressure. (Hey, I’m working on it!) But having been raised in a strict New England home where a mere shut-up could get you grounded, I’ve tried to instill the importance of proper language in my kids. I certainly don’t encourage it as conversational habit.

That said, as a novelist dedicated to authentically re-creating certain moments and places in history, there are times when I feel compelled to curse. For my first novel, the cursing was less copious than creative; set in China, it utilized slurs like steaming ox vagina which—while unsettling visually--I still found sheepishly thrilling, simply because they were kind of brilliant. (I mean, who thinks up stuff like that?)

In my more recent novel, though, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, I was faced with a different situation. The novel is set against the Pacific War, and tells the story of the Tokyo Firebombing from both Japanese and American perspectives, including Japanese and American military men. As everyone knows, soldiers and sailors and airmen curse—a lot. On the Japanese side, at least, the cursing was minimal—in part because Japanese (unlike Chinese) is a language relatively devoid of real curse words. Slurs and expletives tend to be related through tone and expression rather than actual vocabulary.

On the American side, however, almost every source I consulted confirmed that these guys used swear words kind of the way they used oxygen. They peppered them into everything—from ammo checks to passing the salt at mess. It wasn’t the way I’d like to talk as a writer or a mother (or just a fundamentally articulate, considerate human being). But as my interest lay in re-creating the world of a soldier/sailor/airman as accurately as possible, I felt I didn’t have much choice. So for those sections in which my characters were training, flying huge bombers off of tiny ships, bombing cities and [spoiler alert!] crashing in enemy territory, I had them curse up a blue streak. I was even kind of proud of myself, as a non-swearing kind of woman, to have been able to rise to the occasion.

Which is why I was a little surprised upon reading some of the feedback on sites like Goodreads.com, in which a few readers expressed discomfort or even disapproval with my use of swearing. Several reviewers said they “hated” the cursing and found it upsetting enough to be distracting; one reviewer even expressed surprise that I was a mother (!) Such reactions bemused me. Was I supposed (I wondered) to write/fight a war with soldiers who spoke as though they were at Sunday School while under fire? Wouldn’t that be distracting to anyone who knew better—which was (one assumes) everyone? 

I took the question to a forum I sometimes visit with other authors, asking them about their experience with cursing in their writing. I found that they had various responses to it. Most had encountered the issue on one level or another, though many were able to write around it (as I mostly did in my first novel) because they were writing about people cursing in a foreign (or even ancient) language. Some, however, felt as I do-that our jobs as writers is to recreate worlds as accurately as possible, even if that makes the reading experience less comfortable. Others, though writing about Americans who would naturally be expected to be foul-mouthed in certain scenes, still refrained from using “offensive” language because they don’t want to distract or upset their readers. It was all certainly food for thought—especially given that of all the potentially-disturbing things covered in my novel (war atrocities, personal betrayal, infidelity, mass bombings of civilians) profanity hadn’t even occurred to me as being on the spectrum.

But it did raise some really interesting questions on what we write and read for. Is it, in the end, for mere comfort and pleasure? Do we read simply to confirm our sense of how the world should be? Certainly, reading a sanitized version of the world as we know it is probably comforting to some. But for me, a good book—like any good piece of art—is one that not only illuminates and inspires but also disturbs. It’s one that pushes me past my comfort zone, into places where I’m forced to question my own assumptions and those of the world around me. An example for me (which I’ve written about for the excellent blog BookRiot.com) is the novel The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. It’s an exquisitely-crafted work with truly transcendent moments of poetry and writing. It also is a searing account of rape and incest—things I most certainly am not comfortable with—am, in fact, far less comfortable with than simple cursing.  In fact after reading the book, I was stunned—and have continued to be, pretty much every time I go back to think about it. But at the same time, I am amazed by how much beauty, love and simple hope there were in those pages—and even (perhaps unbelievably) in that one unthinkable scene.  For me, it confirmed Morrison as a master writer of our times—and the novel as a reading experience that mattered all the more--because it made me profoundly uncomfortable. It made me squirm, and even kept me up for a few nights. But to be honest, I wouldn’t have changed a single word.

All of which is not to say that those who find cursing problematic in fiction are wrong to feel the way they do. Another thing I love about books, after all, is how profoundly personal they are as an experience; how every one is entitled to their own perceptions of what they read, and to evaluate that experience in their own way. I also love the dialogue stems from having different opinions about our reading experiences—for in many ways, in the end that’s really the point. We may not agree about things like structure, character development, plot or language—but even in disagreeing over them we are (as E.M. Forster famously said once) “only connecting.” Without those disagreements, both reading and writing would be  empty exercises in agreement and mutual satisfaction. Maybe that’s even how some people would like them to be—which (again) is bloody well fine by me.

For my part, though, after giving the subject fairly significant consideration, I plan to keep on swearing away where it seems right to me—at least in my books. Hopefully, a little less in front of my kids.

Giveaway:

Thanks to HF Virtual Book Tours, I'm pleased to be able to give away a copy of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Monday, June 10
Review & Giveaway at Bippity Boppity Book
Tuesday, June 11
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Wednesday, June 12
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, June 13
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, June 14
Review & Interview at A Bookish Libraria
Monday, June 17
Review at A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, June 18
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, June 19
Review at Just One More Chapter
Thursday, June 20
Review at Tiny Library
Friday, June 21
Interview & Giveaway at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Monday, June 24
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Tuesday, June 25
Review at Kinx’s Book Nook
Review & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Wednesday, June 26
Review at Bitches with Books
Thursday, June 27
Guest Post at HF Connection
Friday, June 28
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Saturday, June 29
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
 photo 1ef45b74-48c8-4be7-9562-2a67b44b6cf7.jpg
 

Monday, June 17, 2013

HF Virtual Book Tours Review: The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein

Title: The Gods of Heavenly Punishment
Author: Jennifer Cody Epstein
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co.
Publish Date: March 11, 2013
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours


Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You don't mind tough subjects.
 What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "In this evocative and thrilling epic novel, fifteen-year-old Yoshi Kobayashi, child of Japan’s New Empire, daughter of an ardent expansionist and a mother with a haunting past, is on her way home on a March night when American bombers shower her city with napalm—an attack that leaves one hundred thousand dead within hours and half the city in ashen ruins. In the days that follow, Yoshi’s old life will blur beyond recognition, leading her to a new world marked by destruction and shaped by those considered the enemy: Cam, a downed bomber pilot taken prisoner by the Imperial Japanese Army; Anton, a gifted architect who helped modernize Tokyo’s prewar skyline but is now charged with destroying it; and Billy, an Occupation soldier who arrives in the blackened city with a dark secret of his own. Directly or indirectly, each will shape Yoshi’s journey as she seeks safety, love, and redemption."

My Two Cents:

"The Gods of Heavenly Punishment" is a story set in both Japan and the United States during World War II. It follows many different characters, both Japanese and American, through their experiences during the war. Due to the setting and time period in this book, I'm sure you can imagine that some of the subject matter of this book is certainly heavy indeed but I can promise that if you stick it out, you'll be rewarded with a pretty good story full of interesting characters and set against several world changing events.

Each chapter follows a set of different characters although some of the characters appear in more than one chapter. All of the chapters come together in the end to tell a whole story. Because all of the stories feel very separate (some more or less than others), I kept waiting to see how they would come together, which was a tiny bit distracting.

There were many interesting characters in this book. I was especially intrigued by Hana and her daughter, Yoshi. There is a lot of mystery surrounding Hana throughout the book and I really liked putting all the pieces together to see what happened to her. Yoshi definitely fascinated me as well.

The writing in this book was really good too. Even when I was a little bit frustrated by trying to see how all of the parts were coming together, the writing definitely kept me going. I will be anxious to see where else Epstein's writing takes her.






Follow the Rest of the Tour:


Monday, June 10
Review & Giveaway at Bippity Boppity Book
Tuesday, June 11
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Wednesday, June 12
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, June 13
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, June 14
Review & Interview at A Bookish Libraria
Monday, June 17
Review at A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, June 18
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, June 19
Review at Just One More Chapter
Thursday, June 20
Review at Tiny Library
Friday, June 21
Interview & Giveaway at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Monday, June 24
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Tuesday, June 25
Review at Kinx’s Book Nook
Review & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Wednesday, June 26
Review at Bitches with Books
Thursday, June 27
Guest Post at HF Connection
Friday, June 28
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Saturday, June 29
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
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Friday, June 14, 2013

Literary Locale and Giveaway!

Literary Locale is a meme here at A Bookish Affair on Fridays where I talk about where I've been reading lately or any other bookish locations that I feel like talking about. Feel free to grab the logo and play along!
I'm less than a week away from going to the Historical Novel Society conference in St. Petersburg, FL. I am so excited!!! I've never been to the west side of Florida so I'm definitely looking forward to exploring a new place! I'm getting to the conference a little early and am leaving a little late so I'm hoping to actually get out and see some of St. Petersburg.
One thing I'm hoping to get to see is the Dali Museum (yes, as in Salvador Dali).  I love his work so I'm really, really hopeful I'll get to see it!
The Persistence of Memory
I'm also looking forward to going to the spa. Yes, you can find a spa just about anywhere but what better way to relax!



 Giveaway:
Today, I'm also excited to be able to give away two books in honor of both Father's Day and  armchair traveling.
The first book is Bunker Hill (which I've reviewed here):

The other book is The Boys in the Boat (I will be reviewing this book in the coming weeks):

 Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below!
 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, June 13, 2013

TLC Book Tours Review, Author Interview, Giveaway: The Keeper of Secrets by Julie Thomas

Title: The Keeper of Secrets
Author: Julie Thomas
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publish Date: May 28, 2013


Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You like family stories.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Beautiful and mysterious, this debut novel follows a priceless violin across five decades-from WWII to Stalinist Russia to the gilded international concert halls of today-and reveals the loss, love, and secrets of the families who owned it.
A priceless violin. A family torn apart. A decision that could change everything.

Berlin, 1939. Fourteen year old Simon Horowitz is awash in a world of music. His family owns a superb collection of instruments and at its heart is his father's 1742 Guarneri de Gesu violin. But all is lost when the Nazis march across Europe and Simon and his father and brother are sent to Dachau. Amid unimaginable cruelty and death, Simon finds kindness from an unexpected corner, and a chance to pick up a violin again, a chance to live.

In the present day, orchestra conductor Rafael Gomez has seen much in his time on the world's stage, but he finds himself oddly inspired by the playing of an aspiring violin virtuoso, a fantastic talent who is only just fourteen. Then the boy, Daniel Horowitz, suddenly refuses to play another note, and Rafael knows he'll do anything he can to change that. When he learns the boy's family once owned a precious violin, believed to have been lost forever, Rafael thinks he might know exactly how to get Daniel playing again. In taking on the task he discovers a family story like no other that winds from World War II and Communist Russia all the way to Rafael's very own stage."


My Two Cents:

"The Keeper of Secrets" really is a story about a family and what brings a family together. I love reading about families and the ties that bind them. This book also involves a priceless violin and while I was never really good at playing any instruments (I failed at playing the flute and the piano), I appreciate the ability of music to bring people together. Add some great historical detail and you have a fantastic book that will keep you engaged.

I really enjoyed reading about the family at the center of the book. It was so interesting to see them both in the past and the near present. You really feel for Simon and everything that his family goes through. There are a lot of characters in the book and some of the names are the same or similar, which made it a little difficult to keep up (I had to keep referring back to previous chapters to make sure that I was keeping everyone straight. There wasn't just one character that I liked. I wanted to see what happened to all of the characters.

This book takes place in two time frames: late 1930s/ early 1940s in Europe and the mid-2000s. I really enjoyed reading both the story set in the past and the story set in the present, which sometimes does not happen for me. Being a historical fiction lover, I tend to like the story set in the past better.

I must also mention that I really liked the scenes set in the Kennedy Center. This is a small thing but I love books that give glimpses into the Washington, D.C. area that don't have anything to do with politics. The Kennedy Center is one of my very favorite places in D.C. Seeing a show or a concert there is truly magical!

Overall, this is a great but short historical fiction book for readers who love reading about WWII and families!






Interview:

I'm really excited to welcome Julie Thomas here to A Bookish Affair.

1. What is the inspiration behind The Keeper of Secrets?
 

I read a magazine article about a missing 1742 Guarneri violin and that sparked my interest. At the same time I witnessed a discussion between my late sister-in-law (who was a music teacher) and my nephew about playing sport and playing the violin. It created a 'perfect storm' of ideas and I started researching. The more I found, the more passionate I became about the story. I also love music with a passion, including opera and classical, so it was a labor of love!
 
2. Why do you think that people are so drawn to reading about WWII today?

 

It was an extraordinary time in history for so many nations and so many people. There was so much sacrifice and bravery and good only just triumphed over evil. If it hadn't the world would be a very different place today. The scope of subjects within WWII ranges from the epic and dangerous to the intimate and heartbreaking. With a few exceptions, we can't imagine life under that much pressure and danger and I think people live vicariously through the stories that are re-created, both fiction and non-fiction.

3. Who is your favorite character in the book?
 

Interesting question. I am very fond of Sergei because he is larger than life, but I would have to say my favorite is Rafael. He is the 'moral compass', without him nothing would be resolved and he risks a great deal personally to make it happen. Through him, we travel back in time as the old gentlemen tell him their story and I love his relationship with Daniel, I love the way he talks to Daniel.
Simon was the hardest character to write, not just because of what he went through but because of who he became. When Benjamin died I cried for days, but it had to happen.
 
4. What was your research process like for this book?

 

Long!! Complicated and detailed. When I started there was no internet so I read lots and lots of books. I watched and/or listened to over 200 pieces of violin music so I could describe the piece and how it was played. The characters took on more life as the research filled them in. The Horowitz family in WWII Germany was created through research and the real people I found, men who didn't flee because they believed it wouldn't last long or be serious, people who fled but had trouble escaping, the resistance in Berlin etc. Some of the stories I found would have made a story all by themselves - the people Rachel worked for, the pilots Yulena flew with etc.

5. If you could bring three fictional characters with you to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?


  • Sherlock Holmes, because he could probably figure out a way off the island and he could play the violin for me and entertain me.
  • Mr Darcy because there would be water and he could stride around in a wet shirt and teach me how do those very dainty dance moves - he looks remarkably like a young Colin Firth 
  • James Bond, because...well because he's James Bond and there might be something from which I need rescuing and we could drink martinis.   
 Giveaway:

Thanks to the publisher, I am able to give away three copies of this awesome book! 

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Thursday, May 30th: From L.A. to LA
Monday, June 3rd: Mom in Love With Fiction
Tuesday, June 4th: That’s What She Read
Thursday, June 6th: A Patchwork of Books
Monday, June 10th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Monday, June 10th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Tuesday, June 11th: Excellent Library
Wednesday, June 12th: Lisa’s Yarns
Thursday, June 13th: A Bookish Affair
Monday, June 17th: Drey’s Library
TBD: Hardcover Feedback
 
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